A Veiled Woman's Response to the Niqab Debate

16 years 7 months ago - 13 years 1 month ago #74 by umm asma
umm asma created the topic: A Veiled Woman's Response to the Niqab Debate
In the past few weeks a British MP sparked a huge controversy in the UK on the Muslim woman’s dress commonly referred to by non-Muslim westerners as "the black veil" and by Muslims as the niqaab. I watched the controversy as it grew fiercely spreading across the western world and how it was being portrayed in the media. Many westerners began preparing for a mighty confrontation with the Muslim women who live in their countries that still choose to wear niqaab and they’ve assumed all of them to have immigrated from "back home". Some of them describe the wearing of the niqaab by Muslim women as “backwards”, “uncomfortable for them”, and in the words of the British Prime Minister Tony Blair it is a “mark of separation”. But although they express their feelings towards it in many ways, the overriding question on the mind of many westerners appears to be: Why are some Muslim women who are not forced to wear niqaab still choosing to do so in free western countries? Indeed, many westerners are baffled by this, and instead of trying to understand they turn to their own alternative explanations such as “they must be brainwashed” because saying these women are “oppressed” just doesn’t cut it anymore. As for these westerners, then I as a Muslim woman who wears niqaab say leave them to their ignorant assumptions for it is the same whether we explain to them or do not explain to them; they have chosen not to understand. But there are other westerners who when I make eye contact with them on the streets look more curious than cruel. And many sincerely wonder the reason for us turning to this traditional Islaamic dress when we simply aren’t forced to. And as for them perhaps it is only more of an explanation from a veiled Muslim woman that they want, and to know how niqaab benefits us and to them I say fair enough. I have chosen to write this piece for them (specifically) and I sincerely hope that it serves them well in explaining this to them. I have witnessed many non-Muslim western writers and self-proclaimed intellectuals set out to try and explain for themselves how we feel about niqaab and constantly suggest it is not possible for a rational woman to want this. But I wonder what makes them qualified to speak from the Muslim woman’s perspective on niqaab. Is there anyone more qualified to say how these Muslim women feel about wearing niqaab other than one of these Muslim women themselves? So here I go to explain to you the benefits of wearing niqaab, but first here is some relevant background information about me:

1. I was born and raised in Canada my whole life, am (of course) a Canadian citizen, and the only other country I have been to was the United States. So occasionally when I am shouted at to go back home to my own country I’m not really sure how to.

2. English is my first and only language.

3. I am considered educated by both Muslims and non-Muslims alike, and I hope by my writing you have observed this on your own.

4. No one on planet earth has forced me to wear niqaab and at any moment I could take it off and there would be no real consequences from others for doing so. And similarly, no one forces me to defend wearing niqaab or to speak well of it, and this I also do by choice.

5. At age nine I was told to wear the Muslim headscarf (commonly referred by Muslims as hijaab) but was able to do so still running around in jeans and a shirt. In grade ten I progressed to wearing skirts on my own. In grade twelve I began wearing the long black robe (abaya), which often is seen on Muslim women. Later on in the year, I began wearing niqaab and then I wore a long and loose garment over my abaya commonly referred to by Muslims as a khimaar. And finally to top it all off, I began to wear gloves. I love dressing like this and am happy to. Thus, I progressed to dressing this way, and most of my life did not do so.

6. Three years ago, I never thought I would ever wear niqaab and had much disdain for it at the time. Silly me.

7. Among the women I know who wear niqaab and have helped me to think differently about it are women who have converted to Islaam. Some of them are brown-skinned like me while others are white, black, Phillipino etc.

So this is where I come from and I hope you are now able to see its relevance to the issue at hand. But now to go on to the many benefits there are for me and other Muslim women in wearing the niqaab and dressing modestly. Some of the benefits I’ve received were expected and others have surprised me. This is not intended as a piece that fuels the debate on niqaab, but rather I’m just trying to convey the perspective of a Muslim woman on wearing her own niqaab. Surely as these are my feelings and no one can feel them but me, no one can argue against them. It may be wondered will I mention any disadvantages of wearing it, but by Allah I know of no real or meaningful disadvantages that are of any concern to me.

Benefit 1: It is an Act of Worship that Can Yield Reward

Of surprise to many I’m sure, in Islaam it is well know that an act of worship goes beyond prayer. Wearing niqaab and dressing modestly for the Muslim woman is also an act of worship, an opportunity to please Allah, which means she can be rewarded for it. Imagine the comfort I then feel to know that every time I wear it I may be rewarded for doing so and to constantly be wearing it throughout life takes its potential reward almost beyond my understanding.

Benefit 2: You are Immediately Identified as a Muslim Woman

As women who dress like me are attributed to Islaam, there is no need to explain to others what religion I am from. Since people immediately know I’m Muslim many of them then expect certain behaviors of mine to be different from theirs because of my different religious teachings. And many people kindly make way for my differences because of this acknowledgement. And it is an honour to be identified as a Muslim woman.

Benefit 3: It Brings the Best Treatment from Men

I have found Muslim and Non-Muslim men alike to treat me better than ever since I began observing niqaab. They move aside for me to let me pass, never come within my personal space, and practice decent behavior when it is necessary for them to speak to me. You won’t find them making inappropriate gestures or remarks to me that would offend many other women, but rather I’m not bothered. To my relief I am left peacefully alone to go about my business without the worry that I need to ward anyone off. Often I’ve seen or have known of women becoming extremely angry because men who find them attractive would bother them and when these women demand that they stop these men do not take them seriously. To many men, the primary message a woman gives off is in her manner of dress which dictates to them how to treat her.

Benefit 4: More Clothes Means more Protection

When we dress in this manner around non-related men we do not incite their desires so that they may want to harm us. Rather, it effectively discourages them from bothering, molesting, or harassing us as the wearing of clothes and the covering up of beauty naturally calms the desires of the other gender rendering you to be left alone in peace. They have no business with us, and we cannot be deceived by them. And how often do we hear of young mothers becoming pregnant thinking themselves loved only to be abandoned when they are finished being toyed with. And how can a man desire a woman whose beauty is not even described to him? So naturally this type of dress is protection, it is the easiest protection to accomplish, and when we are in the company of our male relatives who would not harm us (like others men may) and in whom we can place our immediate trust regarding ourselves and our honour we don’t need to cover to this extent. The vast majority of the time in fact we are not dressed this way. This same idea of protection can be applied regarding the two genders. As women are generally physically weaker than men and more vulnerable to this type of harm by them, she can balance out this disadvantage by wearing more clothes for protection. So wearing niqaab is also befitting for our very nature as women.

Benefit 5: More Protection Means a Greater Feeling of Ease and Peace

Security is a human need that when felt naturally leaves a human being in a state of relief and encourages feelings of ease and peace. For me when I cover, I know I am shielded from every strange man who may have within them perversions, evil thoughts, or may commit lewd acts I may not know about. It is impossible to tell which of them may possess these ill traits in public, and so often do we find the most decent looking person to have committed the most heinous crimes. So we get to choose which men get to see us and we choose for them to be our male relatives (our honourable and beloved protectors). And it is a unique power for a woman to have this choice. To know then that simply wearing niqaab does away with much of these threats naturally leaves the Muslim woman feeling ease and peace beneath the veil.

Benefit 6: It Makes Beauty Easy on Women

Many women nowadays, particularly in the western world, exhaust themselves before going out in public applying make-up, tending to their hair, and choosing an outfit to wear for the day; a process which takes some hours. And before heading out many cram their feet into outrageously oppressive and uncomfortable high-heel shoes. Some women find the public pressure of body image so intense that they take to greater extremes and suffer from such disorders as bulimia and anorexia nervosa. Ironically, they call themselves free in doing so and equal to men yet do this primarily for the sake of men. And then upon coming home, these women in the presence of their spouse or family do not care to exert the same effort in tending to their appearance. For Muslim women it is the complete opposite, and the niqaab plays a huge part in that. We need not struggle to please the many men outside of our homes who have no business with us but we need only please our spouse and family and that is a lot less people. After all, the relationship lies between a woman and her spouse, and not a woman and other men in society. Or at least from an Islaamic standpoint that is how meaningful relationships should be.

Benefit 7: It Helps to Preserve Praiseworthy Virtues

Among the virtues we Muslim women try to strive for, and indeed we consider them virtues, are the virtues of modesty and chastity. And these are virtues all Muslims strive for. The niqaab helps to preserve and feed these virtues. When the women of society possess them then the whole of society benefits. That is because we find there is a direct link between how women of a society generally dress and how much temptation there is for men and women to fall into fornication, adultery, and other despicable acts. And it is these acts that destroy families and cause all of society to fall into corruption and weakness. Having these virtues also paves the way for gaining other virtues such as decency, honour, uprightness, integrity, piety, discipline, honesty etc. Many westerners mock Muslim women in veil, and praise other types of women such as Hollywood actresses and endeavor to be like them. I wonder what good example we can take from them. Even though these women can publicly be seen in movies performing acts that at one point in time were done only in a bedroom, they are still seen as a beacon of light for the many women of the western world and are constantly called role models. And I have never witnessed the condemning of their behavior by westerners whilst the condemning of niqaab and the wearing of modest clothes has been vicious. I fear it would be painfully hard and degrading to always attain their fake appearance, to be seen as a sex object, and to answer each call of this sickly vain society. So let it be seen by us in which way this leads to our happiness, goodness for us, and freedom. And let it be seen by us some meaningful and lasting relationships they are able to carry with their boyfriends, spouses and families as a result of their behavior. We do not see it. The behavior of many western women and what they value can likewise be baffling to us Muslim women.

Benefit 8: It Means Freedom for Us

Can it be denied that everyone has their own notion of what freedom is? For Muslim women, freedom is not as absurdly simple as: the fewer clothes you wear the more free you are. And it does not mean you are able to do whatever you wish. We as well as all Muslims consider us bound by religion and our worship is to Allah not to our own vain desires. Freedom first comes to us in worshipping Allah alone and not ascribing partners to Him or giving what belongs to Him to others. This is freedom in that it satisfies the natural inclination of a human being to worship their Lord and does so in a manner that can be easily understood and that gives Him His due respect. And as for the way niqaab offers us Muslim women freedom is that it frees us from all kinds of harm that comes to women from many angles and allows us to serve our Lord. Primarily I am referring to the harm that can be inflicted on women by men when women incite their natural desires. And it also frees us from going against our nature and we are allowed to have shame and we are not pressured to display our bodies to strangers. And we are freed from the expectation to please with our appearance every man in public. And this is what we consider to be freedom. And even if westerners were to consider whether or not we are free according to their standards even they would have to consider us free because we are doing what we want to do out of pure choice.

Benefit 9: It is a Befitting Action for Nowadays Especially

In the eyes of many, niqaab is a backwards thing, a thing from the past, a tradition, and something no longer needed nowadays. On the contrary, I have found the need to wear it more than ever especially because harassment, molestation, and assault on women are more wildly rampant than ever and the morals of society as a whole have decreased. The need for a woman to wear niqaab grows as the threats against her that niqaab effectively shields against increase. There is not denying in the west threats to a woman’s honour widely exist, and these threats to women also spread across the world from its direction.

So although others may express their hatred for the niqaab and those who wear it, it cannot be said by other then a Muslim woman who chooses to wear it how we feel about wearing it, and what we consider it to do for us. So this is what I say, and be assured it reflects the views of other Muslim women who wear niqaab by choice in the west. Were others to say “well this is the opinion of only one of them” I would fear they would reflect yet further ignorance of Muslim women. In light of this great niqaab controversy I know of nobody more knowledgeable or experienced in the field of niqaab other then the veiled Muslim woman. And I know of nobody's opinion being more relevant and important in the niqaab debate other then hers. And I know of the niqaab more then those who don’t wear it. And of my niqaab I know of only good.

Umm Asma
Last Edit: 13 years 1 month ago by umm asma.

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16 years 7 months ago #75 by admin admin replied the topic: Re:A Veiled Woman's Response to the Niqab Debate
This brings to mind many other double standards. For example,

a) Woman in Ontario, Canada are permitted, as a legal right to expose their breasts in Public, little attention or outrage regarding this, and the effects it can have on degrading women. Rather it is a rights issue, so why do some wish to remove the right of Women to cover?

b) The myth of 'not integrating', as the term is used a lot to describe Muslims who do not look and dress like the average Canadian whilst the gothics wear all black, the rock-influenced types die their hair blue and all this is 'multi-cultural' and part of the mosaic that some Canadians rave about. However, the Muslims alone are singled out as not integrating, I wonder if Colonial immigrants to Canada will be 'integrating' after a few hundred years and dawning aboriginal clothing any time soon? Just as one might suggest 'collatoral damage' is a modern-day term for slaughtering of civilians, perhaps 'integration' is today's term for colonialism?

We encourage Muslim Women who wear the Niqaab to post their comments here and to educate the online community about their 'choices' and why they make them and any double-standards they encountered.<br><br>Post edited by: admin, at: 2006/10/23 01:06

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16 years 6 months ago #77 by Aliyah Jacobs
Aliyah Jacobs replied the topic: Re:A Veiled Woman's Response to the Niqab Debate
As a niqab-wearing Muslim woman I take particular offense to comments such as the ones we have heard from these politicians. I actually don't want to go outside and I feel isolated and segregated when I hear these kind of words. I find that many people are usually very accommodating and kind when I'm out and about. However, when such dogmatic remarks emanate from Tony Blair, Jack Straw and the like, I find public sentiment does turn. After such comments, I see more stares and whispers and expressions of fear and hatred. Leaders do just that, they lead. So if politicians make uninformed and uneducated remarks, then what kind of message are they giving their followers?

You might ask why should the general public defend the rights of Muslim women who choose to cover their faces? Well, if their (Muslim women's) right to wear what they choose is not defended then why should yours be? And who knows who'll be targeted next? Surgeons? They wear facial cloths and head coverings. Cancer Patients? They wear head scarves. Nuns? They cover their heads. Police Personal? They cover their heads too. People wearing sunglasses? It is practically impossible to make eye contact with sunglass wearers. You? If you carry any sense of justice in your heart, you must ask yourself why do you allow the government to discriminate against and vilify a particular religious, racial or cultural group?

In a democratic and 'free' society citizens are supposed to accept diversity in beliefs, religion and dress from their fellow citizens so long as they comply with the law. Now when the law changes to discriminate and isolate a particular group, well then, that becomes a problem for everyone (note my above examples). Think about it.

As it stands now, people are not able to wear \"hoodies\" -the hoods on the back of sweatshirts- to some places anymore. And maybe the next group might not be penalised or ostracized for covering the head or face. What happens if one day blue jeans were suddenly banned or cowboy shirts or even Birkenstocks or nose piercings?[That was a joke-but I think perhaps you get the picture.] Some people say that the reason why \"hoodies\" and niqabs etc are/should be banned is to promote better security and so forth. So what is stopping someone using a better & more believable disguise of make-up, wigs & prosthetic devices? A Fear Society is being created and if we let fear rule our lives then haven't the terrorists \"won\"?

Education is the key to solving this issue, the issue of ignorance of the Islamic Faith. Education and understanding of true Islam not the fallacies that media and sensationalist books present to the uninformed and unsuspecting public. If people are better informed about Islam, they won't fear what they don't know nor understand and Jack Straw et al. won't hold much sway when their offensive remarks hit the papers. I guess I'm just an idealist and a wishful thinker, huh?<br><br>Post edited by: admin, at: 2006/11/06 19:40

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16 years 6 months ago #80 by Samirah bint Jackie Todd
Samirah bint Jackie Todd replied the topic: Re:A Veiled Woman's Response to the Niqab Debate
In the Name of Allah, the Most Merciful, the Giver of Mercy

After posting the previous article on veiling and the claims that it segregates the women from society,on my msn space. I put some thought into this and came about some very interesting questions. The western governments claim that it separates us and causes discomfort to the mass public ( non-Muslim May Allah guide them and rectify their affairs)

Lets pose the question to other religions outside Christianity and Islam.

What about the dress of the male Hasidic Jew who by faith grows his beard and wears his hair in a fashion not practiced by other religions even wears a yarmulkas and clothing also not in practiced by someone outside his faith. Is that separation of the mass?

Even better:

The Hindu women and men who's clothing are not part of mainstream West, is that separation?

Even better:

The Amish - Who's very doctrine is to separate themselves from the English (non-believers of their religion) As far as to not use daily conveniences such as electricity , phones, credit, vehicles or any contact with the outside community other than for business. Pulling their children out of school at the 8th grade as so they don't get caught up with the sins of the worldly. The women even use a form of covering for modesty and also the men is that separation by dressing differently?

Yet accommodations are met for all these religions and they are tolerated with no complaints or repercussions to their beliefs.

As a Muslim convert, I don't see these accomadation for myself met respectfully if even met at all. The veil does not hinder my ability and right to receive an education, nor to give an education. Nor does it hinder my ability to go with daily activities.
My religious beliefs do not separate me from the non-believer but encourages me to communicate with them as to show them we God fearing people.

The comments and laws being made about the veil in some Western countries is based off the fear of not knowing, the ignorance of not learning the truth behind the belief and practice of wearing the niqqab.

Unfortunately some of the non-Muslims place all of Islam on the propaganda of half-truths, whole lies and the doctrines and perversions of individual Muslims who's 'Aqeedah is not intact. A Muslim woman's intelligence DOES NOT stop at the niqab.

Aishah (The wife of the Prophet Muhammad, may Allah be pleased with her) taught (some of) the Companions (of Muhammad) after the death of Prophet Muhammad (may Allaah raise his Rank and Grant him Peace) If the niqab is so oppressive and hindering how was she able to maintain her status as a learned (and respected) woman?

If they took the time to learn the beauty of Islam, taught correctly, they would be ashamed of themselves.
They are afraid to admit they are wrong. Are they afraid of how we conduct ourselves respectfully in public contrary to the actions of some women who openly fornicate with strangers, by dress and actions? Is it because they cannot give us a worth based upon our appearance and sexuality? Does it scare them that we fear our Creator enough to submit to His Commands? That their disobedience to Him has fathomed to uncontrollable proportions? That they have to find excuses and outlets for their own misgivings, disobedience and desires?

Or are they even intimidated by the thought that the o so oppressive veil contains an educated and intelligent woman, who respects her Lord first and foremost and herself. And that she doesn't depend on the acceptance of society to evaluate her own worth? Since Allah has already let it be known that she is the foundation of society and is held in the utmost respect to Allah and Man. Who needs the approval of mankind?

I am comfortable with my covering and should no government tell me, I can't practice my religion to the best of my ability. They need to address their fears and come to reason that they need to educate themselves before making such a uneducated comment.
Ignorance isn't always bliss.

Samirah Jackie Dean Todd

Ibnul Qayyim -(rahimahullah)-said \"Deeds without sincerity are like a traveler who carries in his water-jug dirt. The carrying of it burdens him and it brings no benefit.\"<br><br>Post edited by: admin, at: 2006/11/15 23:34

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16 years 6 months ago #81 by admin admin replied the topic: Re:A Veiled Woman's Response to the Niqab Debate
From Lycra to Niqab: Coming Home to Islam
Australian Convert speaks on journey through Jewish roots, to the Jehovah Witnesses to finding a natural inclination to Islam

Another interesting look at how a Western woman of her own free will and determination, decided to break the shackles of the 'material-girl world' and settle on the respect and modesty that Islam brings. <br><br>Post edited by: admin, at: 2006/11/21 20:46

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16 years 6 months ago #82 by rosalind leney
rosalind leney replied the topic: Re:A Veiled Woman's Response to the Niqab Debate
That was a very informative article. thankyou.

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16 years 6 months ago - 13 years 1 month ago #87 by umm asma
umm asma replied the topic: Re:A Veiled Woman's Response to the Niqab Debate
You are most welcome roley.

Umm Asma
Last Edit: 13 years 1 month ago by umm asma.

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16 years 5 months ago #95 by AbdulWahed
AbdulWahed replied the topic: Re: A Veiled Woman's Response to the Niqab Debate
I couldn't resist posting this scholarly article on the issue of Hijab. It covers most of the things that have already been mentioned by the different sisters who posted their experiences/views, but I found this to be a comprehensive article about Hijab (covering). It's also written in light of an incident from the 90's. Two questions: How far have people come since then as a society, in terms of understanding Hijab? <and> How would you explain the increase in women who choose to wear Hijab from when they were not wearing it?

Read what sister Sadia says at the end of the article. This is how all Muslims should feel about their religion (within reason) as regards to performing mandatory acts of worship, not being overly concerned about being pallatable to the masses.

The Hijab

The women interviewed stressed how comfortable they felt wearing Hijab, how it made them feel good about themselves, and brought them a feeling of inner peace.

The furore over the expulsion in 1995 of Quebec High school students who refused to remove their head-scarves, with some people declaring the Hijab might not be considered proper Canadian dress, demonstrates that the West has not yet transcended the negative stereotype of the oppressed, veiled Muslim woman which was generated during the period of Western colonization of the Middle East. Indeed, Muslim women in the West are still discriminated against based upon these myths. The aim of this paper is to bring the perspective of some Muslim women who cover willingly into the debate over Hijab.

Muslim women in Hijab are regularly told by Canadians: \"This is Canada. You're free here. You don't have to wear that thing on your head\".

Nur, a university student, discovered one day that this view of Hijab can lead people to be quite hostile. At the university one day, a woman angrily approached her, asking why Nur was dressed like that, bringing herself so much attention, and bringing backwardness to Canada, when feminists had worked so hard for the cause of women for the last twenty years.

When asked to explain why they covered, the women I interviewed said they believed that in the Qur'an Allah commanded women to cover their hair, and that Prophetic statements backed that up. For them, Hijab does not symbolize oppression or terrorism, as it does in mainstream western discourse, but \"purity\", \"modesty\", \"Islamic identity\", \"obedience\", or \"submission to God and a testament that you're Muslim.\"

Halima, a convert to Islam, adds that Hijab symbolizes \"the woman's power to take back her own dignity...\"

Traditional Interpretation

The women I interviewed are aware of feminist arguments that they are being duped by an anti-woman interpretation of the Qur'an. However, they reject this suggestion, and in so doing demonstrate they do not follow Qur'anic Verses blindly. They have considered various interpretations of the Qur'an, and chosen that which made most sense to them. They are not, as conventional wisdom in the West suggests, duped women following the dictates of men. They all believed that the Qur'anic Verse asking women to cover their hair is straightforward.

Nadia captures the women's position well: \"I have to say that when I read the Ayat (Verse) that says take your head-dress and put it over your bosom (Surat An-Nisa, “The Women” 24:30-31). It's pretty clear to me that there is an assumption that you're wearing a head-dress, and that's part of the Islamic dress. I mean why didn't He (Allah) just say 'wear a high neck collar?' {laughs} ...

Why Hijab?

Westerners are often puzzled to see Muslim women covering their bodies more than Muslim men do, and see that as a proof of the woman's inferior status. Islam lays out a dress code for both male and female believers, but the requirements for covering are different: a man is to cover from navel to knee, and wear opaque, loose clothing (tight jeans are out of the question); women cover more, everything but face and hands.

All of the women I interviewed believe that these differences are due to inherent differences between men and women. They say that men are more easily turned on sexually than are women, The point to covering is not that sexual attraction is bad, only that it should be expressed between a husband and wife inside the privacy of home. A public space free of sexual tensions is seen as a more harmonious and peaceful place for human beings, men and women, to interact, do business, and build a healthy civilization.

These women see Hijab as a benefit to society, as a protection for women, and as a source of inner peace. Several women, especially converts who started covering in their twenties, felt men, even non-Muslim men, approached them more respectfully, did not try to flirt with them or make \"leering\" comments, and treated them as 'persons' not 'sex-objects.'

Halima also pointed out that male-female interactions were based on more than just the clothes: Hijab is a mode of decorous behavior as well, \"when you're covered, you're not going to be a flirtatious person.\" My interviewees reject the feminist argument that women should not care how their dress affects men. They reply that Muslim women and men are brothers and sisters in faith, and find nothing wrong in helping men practice their faith better. As Zainab, a convert to Islam, said: \"women have been exploited so much, and men make such silly fools of themselves over women, that I really think it's a good thing for the men, that women wear Hijab. Why encourage jealously or envy or anything like that? Why encourage the negative emotions?\"


Many feminists argue that to believe in male-female differences is to accede to women's oppressions, because it is these differences which have been used to stop women from realizing their potentials. The Muslim women in the survey do not agree that believing in male-female differences is to believe women and men are equal; they all believe that men and women are different, and that women and men are equal in Islam. For these women, the principal definition of equality is how human beings are in relation to Allah.

The Qur'an unequivocally states that men and women are equal in the eyes of Allah. Men and women were created from a single soul, and are both the trustees of Allah on earth (Surat Al-Baqarah, 2:30), individually responsible and accountable for their actions. However, these women do not believe that male/ female differences include traditional western notions of men being more rational or intelligent than women.

In addition, the women were not of the opinion that woman's child-bearing nature meant she could not be in the workforce, and nor did they believe that a man's duty to support his family financially meant that he should not do household chores. The women referred back to the Sunnah of the Prophet (may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), who used to mend his clothes, sweep his house, and perform other chores. The view that men and women have inherent differences is a source of the conflicting understanding of women's position in Islam between the West and my interviewees.

They argue that equality does not have to mean sameness, and criticize western presumptions that if men and women are not doing something in an identical manner they must be unequal. An aspect of Hijab that came through stongly in the interviews was how wearing Hijab gives these women sources of inner strength and a high level of confidence and self-esteem. For example, men and women learn from an early age that women (all of them) are beautiful, and that is a reason they cover. That message is good for women's self-esteem, as well as for the way men think about women. The message compares favorably to that of the West where we see anorexia and bulimia on the increase as young women attempt to reach an unattainable ideal of female beauty.

Many women stressed how comfortable they felt wearing Hijab, how it made them feel good about themselves, and brought them a feeling of inner peace. Ellen, a convert to Islam, says “I am doing something to please Allah, you know it makes you feel good about yourself. You feel different in a good way, because you're not exposing yourself and you know, you're not exposed to many things like you would be if you're not covering.\"

Muslim women in the West who cover, suffer daily indignities from the people around them because of the way they dress. The western image that they are oppressed, or represent a terrorist religion makes it difficult of them to be accepted easily by the Canadian community. Because Islam is not well understood in the West, some converts, also have problems with their families, friends and colleagues about becoming Muslim and about wearing Hijab.

Other women face opposition from their own (Muslim) families as well, in their decision to cover. This is because in many Muslim countries, the West has been seen as the model to imitate in order to 'progress,' and they tried to shed Islam and all that was associated with it. Hijab is associated with something 'backward,' 'low-class' people do, or as something only old women do.

Many see Hijab as ugly and as reducing the chances for a young woman to get married. Muslims who grow up in Canada often object to Hijab, taking on the western perception of the meaning of Hijab. Several of the women (born Muslims) in this study had battled families in order to cover. And yet, many of the women I interviewed, stressed that overall they did not get too many hostile reactions and some of them also experienced positive reactions from non-Muslims. They think that Toronto is so multicultural that people are used to seeing all different kinds of dress.

Sometimes Muslim women have problems with people in situations where their identity is really irrelevant to the situation at hand. Zainab has been a patient in a hospital and had her doctor tell her she should not have embraced Islam because she became a \"second class citizen.\" He asked her \"don't you know how badly the women are treated in Islam?\"

Rania, who is a doctor, finds sometimes patients will interrupt their visit to her to ask her \"Where is she from?\" Or why is she \"dressed like that?\" Rania said that she finds that \"there's the time to explain and then there's the time to just give a brief here, and I'm the doctor and you're the patient okay?\"

Given these kinds of negative reactions to Hijab, it is not surprising that many Muslims try to hide their Islamic identity. The pressure for Muslims to assimilate to the ways of the West is great. Safiyah is under such pressure from her husband to \"look Canadian.\" He did not seem to mind that she wore Hijab in Algeria, but in their first six months in Canada, so many people stared at them, that he felt uncomfortable with her in Hijab. Although the staring didn't bother Safiyah, her husband has successfully pressured her to stop covering.

The women I interviewed referred to Canada as a mulit-cultural and multi-faith society in a positive way, and appreciate the liberty and protection Canadian law gave them to practice their religion as any other group can. They thought as does Halima: \"if Canada boasts you can practice your religious freedom of thought and beliefs, if a woman believes she should wear her Hijab why shouldn't she? She's not hurting anybody, I mean if people can go down Yonge Street [a popular Toronto haunt] almost naked, why should her putting a scarf on her head bother people, even for that matter wearing a veil on face, why should that upset somebody?\"

Muslim women want non-Muslims to think that Hijab is a respectable thing, not degrading or \"oppressive.\" They like to be seen just as an ordinary person who deserves to be respected.

Raneem said, \"Just take me as I am you know, like they should accept me for who I am, not for the way I look and that goes for everybody.\" Halima was clear in her views. She said, \"I would like them to respect our choice and not exclude women who wear Hijab from certain things [like] in Quebec [..] I mean this is truly oppression, they say the woman is opressed because she's wearing the Hijab, but the true oppression is preventing somebody from going to school because they have a scarf on their head, the larger issue is we'd like everybody to know about Islam so more people would accept it.\"

Sadia said her Hijab should tell others, \"That I'm a Muslim, so I want them to know that, I'm doing this because I'm obeying Allah, and it's a free country and I can do what I want. And that I don't care if I'm accepted by them or not, I'm going to do it anyway.\"

Katherine Bullock

Courtesy: Islamic Horizons; Vol. 27, No. 2; No. 2; March-April 199 Pages 48-50. It is based on the interviews taken by sister Katherine Bullock, a revert to Islam since 1994, who is a Doctoral candidate

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